The incident occurred at around 1:30 p.m. ET when a “prohibited object” was detected in a passenger’s property as they passed through x-ray screening at the security checkpoint, said Robert Spinden , federal director of security for the Transportation Security Administration for Georgia, in a press conference. The property has been flagged for “secondary research,” he said.
“During this secondary search, the passenger rushed into his property, grabbing a gun that was inside, which ultimately unloaded,” Spinden said. “The passenger then fled the security checkpoint through an adjacent exit route with his firearm.”
“We were lucky that when the gun went off, no one was seriously injured,” Spinden said.
Three people sustained non-life threatening injuries, TSA said in a statement. Atlanta police previously said no injuries were reported.
According to a source familiar with the matter, the injured were not shot but wounded during the evacuation. All of the injured were adults, the source said, and two were taken to hospital. The unloaded cartridge entered the property of the person who brought the weapon, the source said.
The individual has been identified as a 42-year-old man, Atlanta Police Major Reginald Moorman said at the press conference. Arrest warrants have been issued against his arrest on charges including carrying a concealed weapon at a commercial airport, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, use of a weapon to fire and reckless driving, said Moorman.
“We are actively pursuing this person as we speak,” Moorman said.
Airports spokesman Andrew Gobeil called the discharge accidental and said the loud noise created a “sense of chaos”.
Airport officials and Atlanta police know who the individual is, Gobeil told CNN’s Jim Acosta, as the incident happened during passenger screening.
Erika Zeidler, who was traveling from Atlanta to Anchorage, Alaska, said she was sitting in a restaurant in T-lobby when people started running down the hall.
“We thought they were late for a flight and then more and more people started running,” she told Acosta. “There was screaming and then someone stopped and said, ‘There is a shooter, you have to go.'”
An investigation into the incident is still ongoing, Gobeil said.
A ground stop was requested at the airport for all departing flights, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, but was quickly lifted.
Details of the weapon or the circumstances surrounding the accidental discharge were not released.
The FBI and ATF are “providing investigative assistance” to the Atlanta police, according to an ATF spokesperson. The White House is also “monitoring” the incident, a White House official said, referring matters to local law enforcement.
Witnesses tell of chaos after fear
Witnesses described the confusion and disarray when panic erupted at one of the world’s busiest airports.
Zeidler and others took refuge at a TGI Fridays restaurant, she said. Photos she shared on Twitter showed crowds of people standing on the tarmac under a walkway as the incident unfolded.
Greg Romero had just disembarked from a flight from Salt Lake City when he heard there was an emergency, he told CNN’s Fredricka Whitfield. Airport staff “closed all escalators and cut off all passengers and stopped the tram,” said Romero, the father-in-law of CNN correspondent Nadia Romero.
“Right now the airport staff are doing a very good job of keeping everyone calm,” he added.
A few travelers were “a little panicked but more frustrated,” Romero said. “They’re trying to get flights, to get out of the airport. For the most part, people are just lined up against the walls.”
Dianne Callahan was traveling with her son and had just boarded her flight to New York when the crew closed the plane’s door. It was then that she said she heard screams outside the plane. She also heard sirens, Callahan said, but didn’t know what was going on.
“It was an extremely tense situation,” she said. “People were pushing to get on the plane that weren’t even on our flight. That’s how scared they were.”
Callahan and her son were then returned by security, she said.
“With this, the fare difference for customers will be removed when the modified trip takes place on or before November 23, 2021, in the same service cabin as the one originally booked,” the statement said.
“Delta is coordinating with officials at TSA and Atlanta Airport to greet customers as quickly and safely as possible,” the airline said. “We are also working to proactively welcome customers who may have missed a flight.”
Firearms found at airport checkpoints ‘huge problem’, TSA says
Last month, the agency reported the capture of 4,650 firearms – the majority loaded – at security checkpoints in the first 10 months of 2021. That number surpassed the annual record of 4,432, set in 2019.
According to the TSA statement on Saturday, 450 firearms were detected at the Atlanta airport checkpoints alone in 2021.
“You cannot pass a loaded or unloaded firearm through the security checkpoint at any airport in the country,” Page Pate, criminal defense lawyer and Georgia constitutional lawyer, told Pamela Brown. from CNN. Typically, a fine of up to several thousand dollars would be imposed under federal regulations, Pate said.
“He can also be returned for criminal prosecution to the state where the airport is located,” Pate said. “But in Georgia, if you have a transport permit, the security personnel just have to inform you that you left a gun in your bag and then you take it out of the airport. So you are rarely prosecuted for doing something like this, especially in Georgia, which has very pro-gun law legislation on the books. “
Saturday’s incident “underscores the importance of checking personal effects for dangerous items before leaving the airport,” TSA said.
“Firearms, especially loaded firearms, present an unnecessary risk at checkpoints,” the agency said, “have no place in the passenger cabin of an airplane and represent a very serious error. expensive for passengers who attempt to board a flight with them “.
CNN’s Pete Muntean, Melissa Alonso, Nadia Romero and Ray Sanchez contributed to this report.